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« Wednesday Caption Contest: Part 127. | WILLisms.com | Trivia Tidbit Of The Day: Part 472 -- Stocks & Congress. »

Trivia Tidbit Of The Day: Part 471 -- Air Quality.

Breathe Easier-

The other day, someone at a Christmas party mentioned off-handedly how "the air keeps getting worse and worse... with no end in sight" in America. It wasn't a preachy point, and it was entirely peripheral to the conversation, but it was out there, nevertheless.

I usually let comments like that go in casual conversation, especially when it's a stranger, since correcting facts like that inevitably puts the individual on the defensive. Then it's awkward. So it's usually best to just let it go.

This time, though, I had to interject. The air is not getting worse and worse. At all. Not even close. The very worst cities today are still better than the average cities of the 1970s. The air continues to get better. Things will continue to get better, too, even as we build new power plants and drive more cars and engage in more commerce.

For example, although (relative to 1980) we use more coal, drive more miles, have bigger houses with more and better appliances, and our economy is larger, the air has improved in a major way:


Credit where credit is due. Some of the improvement, the environmental movement can certainly claim. That's-- ostensibly-- their entire purpose. Some of the improvements, though, are just the result of consumers opting for more efficient vehicles and household apparatuses. And sometimes the regulations and taxes and prohibitions meant to help the environment only result in red tape and bureaucracy (and economic costs), all while the real environmental gains come from millions of individuals making millions of individual choices.

Back to the Christmas party comment: I really don't understand the pessimism that pervades today's thinking. As long as we create the conditions for vibrant economic growth, people will solve our supposed environmental problems. That's what rich societies do-- they move from mere survival mode into problem-solving mode. Eventually, instead of solving things like "we need fewer people with polio," they start solving things like "we need more bike paths in our town." The problems of substantial gravitas begin melting into lifestyle and aesthetic problems. What seems to have happened in the environmental movement is a recognition that the environment is not on the verge of collapse, and because big problems remain in our world (to name one, terrorism), environmentalists grudgingly realize their concerns are at the bottom of the "to do" list. So, what do they do? They say the world is on the verge of collapse. Global warming will destroy civilization, flooding our coasts and drying up our plains. Our air is making us all sick. There will be no water left to drink in a few years. It will be Mad Max. A post-apocalyptic dystopian nightmare.

It's just not true.

I tend to think of myself as an environmentalist, but completely removed from today's movement. I reject the Marxism that pervades the modern environmental movement. On the contrary, the way we can best improve our environment is to make everyone rich enough to afford it (something that is already happening); once enough people have enough dough, they move into the next phase of human actualization. Sure, we still have to cross a few priorities off the top of the ole "to do" list, but once a critical mass of people can afford a cleaner environment, they'll go ahead and buy it.

The answer to future environmental problems will be found in the minds and efforts of entrepreneurs, who can only succeed if there are plenty of yuppies wealthy enough to afford to become early adopters for various green ideas. Sometimes I wonder how much healthier our environment would be if we had seen a GDP growth rate of just 1 or 2% higher each year, over the course of the 20th century. The U.S. could easily have a 30 or 40 trillion dollar-per-year economy, instead of a 14 trillion dollar one. Then I start thinking of how 1 or 2% each year over the next century could mean the difference of hundreds of trillions of dollars of wealth, yet how we're not always maximizing our pro-growth policies. Those hundreds of trillions in potentially-lost dollars are precisely what could produce the brilliant breakthroughs that will improve our planet.

So, to me, when I see enviro-luddites burning down homes and torching SUVs, when I see so many people transfixed on punitively taxing carbon and subsidizing allegedly better alternatives, when I see anti-intellectual hysteria over a degree Fahrenheit of global warming over a century's time, and when I see all sorts of anti-business taxes and regulations masquerading as necessary for the environment, I see a lot of negative unintended consequences. I see people standing in the way of progress. I tend to view today's collection of largest environmental interest groups, replete with anti-human population control worldview and socialist overtones, as-- at best-- neutral for the environment in the short term and terrible for the environment over the very long term.

So, back to the initial point about enviro-pessimism and random people at Christmas parties, it's probably best to let it go, but my response sort of did the trick: "You know, I was surprised [not really] to read the other day that just about every pollutant, from carbon monoxide to lead to sulfur, is way down in this country in recent years. And, come to think of it, Houston sure is less smoggy than it was just 7 or 8 years ago."

A little tidbit of good news is always incredibly sobering to enviro-pessimists.


Previous Trivia Tidbit: Laffer Action Pow!.

Posted by Will Franklin · 3 January 2008 01:43 PM


That's a great statement Will. Optimism is contagious, keep it coming.

Posted by: Ken McCracken at January 3, 2008 01:58 PM

But wait a minute . . . didn't Gore tell us the sky was falling? Do you dare suggest that he could be wrong?

Good post!

Posted by: Mustang at January 3, 2008 03:02 PM

"I reject the Marxism that pervades the modern environmental movement."

Me Too.

But, as you, I do think that good environmentalist have made a positive impact upon this country. The left has taken a lot of good ideas and movements in this country and transformed them political movements.

The left is using the environmental movement as a tool for more government regulation and therefore more control. That's the problem with most of the information people receive these days. The left in Washington sets the agenda that the MSM will use to make up news to disseminate to the American public. Problem is, most people including some educated people are still believing that tripe such as this is NEWS.

I am sure you go to nice Christmas parties with educated people that are mis-informed. As much as we complain about the MSM, there are still a lot of people who believe this lefty Washington/MSM narrative.

Not to be personal, but did I not read earlier in comment by ZZ that you are her son. If that is the case, bet both of you are really proud of each other.

Posted by: Eneils Bailey at January 3, 2008 04:00 PM

EB, I am extremely proud of Will. He is a brat. BUT I am very pleased he is mine!

Posted by: Zsa Zsa at January 3, 2008 04:56 PM

Always knew he was a brat, but not your son.

Posted by: Eneils Bailey at January 4, 2008 12:30 PM